Yoga to ease hunched shoulders

We take a look at how yoga can help to ease hunched or rounded shoulders.

shoulders pain relief

When you feel that icy draught down the back of your neck it’s an automatic reaction to scrunch up your shoulders. We retreat into our collars and draw in, closing the front of our bodies and rounding the upper back. Add this to the way most of us spend lots of time sitting and, over time, we end up with extra tension in the upper back and neck.

So here are a few ways we can use yoga poses and techniques to help with some of the common symptoms of “winter hunch”. These will also help with tension if you’re working at a desk all day.

Yoga for tight shoulders

When the weather gets colder one of the things we naturally do is lift our shoulders up and forwards. As we do this, the upper trapezius muscles become tight and stiff. Yoga poses which will help with this include Garudasana / Eagle Pose, Gomukhasana / Cow Face Pose, and twists like Bharadvajasana.

Closing in the front body

When we are cold or hunched up we often close in the front body too. Practise chest opening backbends to help counteract this.

Start off with a gentle backbend like Baby Cobra.

On an inhalation, lift from the back of your heart to bring your chest up, chin comes up last. Roll the collarbones up and firm the shoulder blades into the upper back, a little down along the spine. 
Try to roll-up with barely any weight in your hands so that you are working the back muscles more. When we strengthen the muscles on the upper back this helps the opposite muscles on the chest to release and helps to align the shoulder girdle and torso.

Shalabasana/ Locust pose is also really good for strengthening the back. Or you can go for a restorative way of undoing the icy wind. Place a cushion under the upper back – a meditation cushion works well – and let your head relax back (onto a lower cushion if that’s more comfortable. Your arms can be out to the side, like in a T shape or above your head – wherever feels comfortable. 

  • Find lots more shoulder opening yoga classes by heading to the Classes page and using the ‘Shoulders’ filter under Specific Use.

Free the breath

Another symptom of hunching up our shoulders is that we prevent ourselves from breathing as freely as we could do. Breathing in to your sides and back gives you a stretch from the inside out.

Place your hands on the sides of the ribs and inhale into the side ribs – trying to move your hands together and apart like you are playing an accordion.

Next, sit with your back against a wall with a pillow on your back, or with a partner placing their hands on your back. Breathe against the pillow or your friend’s hand. Start with directing the breath to the mid back, then the upper back and then over the shoulder blades.

Simhasana or Lion’s Breath is also a great way to free the breath and release tension from the jaw.

Neutralise the spine

Poses such as Downward Facing DogTadasana, and Twists are all neutralising for the spine. This can really help if your spine is out of alignment because you are shifting your head forward.  

To look after the spine and create heat at the same time. Sit comfortably up on something so that it is easy to keep your back straight, or stand with your feet hip distance apart. Bring your arms out to the sides either straight out or in a cactus shape. Then begin twisting from side to side keeping your spine nice and straight. You can do this quickly or slowly depending on how flexible you feel today. Keep moving from side to side for about a minute speeding up a little at the end – you don’t have to twist around too far.

Share article
Jenny SavageJenny Savage is part of the EkhartYoga team behind the scenes. She first started yoga at the age of 15 and took her teacher training with Esther Ekhart in 2013. She has a background in Health Psychology, community mental health work, and health and wellbeing research.